A District Court in a rural town made a full Care Order for 12 months for two young children. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) had sought full Care Orders until they both reached the age of majority. The mother’s eldest child was under a long-term full Care Order and residing in a different part of the country.
The social worker who was involved with the mother in relation to the previous care application gave evidence that the mother had had a very unhappy childhood and craved security and love. The social worker told the court of significant child protection concerns, including the mother’s inability to provide basic care to her children, rat infestation of the family home, arson attacks on the family home, fabricated child abduction concerns and fabricated medical conditions relating to her and her children.
A support worker who was previously involved with the family also gave evidence in relation to the mother’s history and outlined the previous supports which had been provided in relation to two older children over a four year period. The support worker said: “This was the closest thing I have seen to the whole family going into care.”
The support worker was of the opinion that while the mother’s crisis behaviour had stopped, she was concerned that the level of support which she required could not remain in place until the children were adults. As a result, the support worker recommended that the Full Care Order be granted.
A clinical psychologist engaged by the CFA for the purpose of providing a psychological assessment of the mother and father gave evidence. The judge questioned the psychologist’s qualifications and asked why there was no psychiatric involvement in the case.
The psychologist carried out approximately four hours of assessments on each of the parents and administered personality tests and cognitive function assessments. The psychologist gave evidence that the mother showed very little insight into the reason for her referral and did not believe that she needed any support around her parenting. The psychologist said that the mother’s forms of attention-seeking were extreme and that she had borderline cognitive functioning. However, the psychologist believed that the father of the two younger children appeared to be a stabilising influence.
The psychologist said that the father had limited insight into the CFA’s concerns and while he was aware of the mother’s previous behaviour, he did not believe she posed any risk to the children and did not believe that that CFA should be involved with his family. The father had a low range of cognitive functioning, but the psychologist did not have any concerns in relation to this and remarked: “There are many people with a low range of cognitive functioning who are ok parents.” Neither parent acknowledged that they had any weaknesses in their parenting ability.
In relation to access, the parents had supervised access twice a week. However, the social worker gave evidence that they had missed more than half of the access sessions and the psychologist was of the opinion that the parents prioritised their own needs over the children’s need for access. On cross examination, it was established that the reason why they missed access was because one of the parents was ill and the parents did not believe it was fair for only one of them to have access. Since late 2016 the level of engagement in access had increased dramatically.
The psychologist was of the opinion that if the father improved in his protective capacity, then there could be unsupervised access. However, the psychologist said that in order to improve his protective capacity, he would need to acknowledge the mother’s history and the risks which she might pose. The psychologist said that access should always be supervised where the mother is present and did not believe that the father could step in if the mother posed a risk.
The grave concerns which the psychologist had in relation to the mother’s risk to the younger children was challenged by the solicitor for the mother on the basis that there was no conclusive evidence in relation to these concerns and the court acknowledged this. The psychologist provided an example of when one of the older children was left out in the snow in a temperature of minus 4 degrees for just under an hour. The solicitor highlighted the fact that the older children were left in the mother’s care for over three years after this incident and there was no application for an Emergency Care Order by the CFA at that time.
The solicitor for the mother also challenged the psychologist’s view that the mother could not have unsupervised access to the children and outlined occasions over the past six months where she was allowed to bath the children and bring them for walks along the river by herself.
The judge indicated to all parties that court was considering making a full Care Order for a period of up to three years with weekend unsupervised access, provided that parents were residing together. The parties discussed the proposals, however, the CFA were not in a position to provide access on the weekends. This was due to the limited resources which they had in that area of the country.
The CFA called the second assessing psychologist for the purpose of providing evidence in relation to unsupervised access. The psychologist was of the opinion that while supervised access had been positive, there was a concern that the mother would not be able to maintain focus all day Saturday and all day Sunday. The psychologist said he would like to see a more graduated arrangement.
The current social worker also gave evidence in relation to unsupervised access and said that no unsupervised access took place while she was supervising access, but she could not confirm that no unsupervised access took place while other social work professionals were supervising access.
The social worker acknowledged that the mother has been stable for a significant period. However, the social worker did not believe unsupervised access was appropriate because of the fact that the mother had been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder. This diagnosis was challenged by the solicitor for the mother who outlined the contents of various conflicting reports which were before the court. The solicitor for the mother highlighted the fact that only one of the many psychologists who had assessed the mother was of the opinion that a personality disorder was present.
The social worker repeated that she believed the mother had been diagnosed with a personality disorder. The solicitor for the mother then asked if she had offered any help to the mother regarding the alleged personality disorder and the social worker replied that she had been offered an appointment through the Mental Health Service in 2014, which she did not attend. The solicitor asked if she had been offered anything since then and the social worker said she had not.
The judge was of the opinion that the children had the right to contact with their mother and father. The judge said she was most impressed by the evidence of the support worker, nonetheless, she said that it could not remove hope from the mother and father that they can be a united family. She acknowledged the period of stability in the mother’s life over the past three years, but accepted that weekend access might be a step too far.
In those circumstances, the court made a full Care Order for a period of 12 months, with supervised access for three hours and unsupervised access for seven hours a week, with one unannounced visit for 15 minutes only from a member of the social work department. The Court also appointed a guardian ad litem for the two children.